About this time of year, even the most manly of men start talking about the Big Dance, Cinderellas and glass slippers.
But they’re not suddenly into fairy tales, unless you count the NCAA men’s basketball tournament which enters Sweet 16 play tonight.
Fans of college basketball know the teams who typically get invitations–the Dukes, the Kansases, the Pittsburghs and the UCLAs.
But what makes the dance exciting to watch is the potential of the underdog teams–the ones whose mascots you usually have to look up–to live out their hoop dreams (and often bust your bracket in the process).
So as Cinderellas like La Salle and Florida Gulf Coast are still dancing in this year’s tournament, here are Sports Illustrated magazine‘s six best covers that celebrate the madness caused by teams like them:
April 11, 1983, “Miracle Workers”: Though no strangers to the Big Dance, the North Carolina State Wolfpack made one of the more improbable runs to the trophy. The return of injured starting guard Dereck Whittenburg in time to win the ACC tournament propelled the No. 6-seeded Wolfpack through a number of close calls, including the championship game which they won 54-52 on a last-second dunk.
March 26, 1990, “For You, Hank”: They didn’t get the automatic bid, but the Loyola-Marymount Lions were tapped to represent the West Coast Conference based on their regular-season record after the death of guard Hank Gathers ended conference tournament play. The No. 11 seed played valiantly in memory of their fallen teammate, upsetting three higher seeds to advance to the Elite Eight before losing to UNLV, 101-131.
March 27, 2006, “Sweet Surprises: George Mason”: Call it the year of the deep tournament upsets, as three SI covers on this date featured as many underdogs coming out on top. The 11-seeded George Mason Patriots no doubt wore the slipper the longest, as they reached the Final Four, upsetting powerhouses Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn before falling to the eventual champion Florida Gators, 58-73.
March 27, 2006, “Sweet Surprises: Wichita State”: The No. 7-seeded and appropriately named Wichita State Shockers were the higher seed in the first round of the tournament, but the tables were quickly turned–at least on paper. As the underdog, they upset No. 2-seed Tennessee to advance to the Sweet 16, where they faced the lower-seeded George Mason Patriots, on a fairytale of a run of their own, and lost, 55-63.
March 27, 2006, “Sweet Surprises: Bradley Braves”: The Bradley Braves from the Missouri Valley Conference arrived at the Big Dance a No. 13 seed, but you would have never known it from the way they played. After upsetting such conference fixtures as Kansas and Pittsburgh, the Braves took on No. 1-seeded Memphis in the Sweet 16, but lost 64-80.
March 29, 2010, “Divine Madness”: If the Northern Iowa Panthers were a lightly-regarded No. 9 seed when they met No. 8 UNLV in the first round of play, then the Missouri Valley Champion must have turned some into believers after knocking off No. 1-seeded Kansas. The Panthers fell to Michigan State, 52-59, in the Sweet 16, but busted many a bracket on their unexpected run.